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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is Smoking a Sin... again

Every now and then I feel compelled to write a piece about something that I know from the outset is not going to be popular and may cost me some readers.

Oh well.

I’m writing this as a response to some negative feedback I’ve been receiving from a Vlog I posted about a year or so ago on YouTube. At the time I had started a series called, “Ask a Christian…” which didn’t last for very long, because of my becoming despondently aware of how inadequate my knowledge was at the time to answer some of the questions I was being asked. So I shelved it.

Nevertheless I did leave the videos online and they continue to get the odd hit and, naturally, the odd bit of ridicule which finds its way into my inbox and occasionally gets on my nerves.

The video that received the majority of mild animosity was one in which I attempted to answer a question about whether I thought smoking was a sin. Oh dear.

Please understand, if you are not a Christian and you find yourself reading this – this article is not directed at you. It is for my spiritual siblings who should know better. I would not expect someone who does not yet know Christ to live by the same standards as me, so please, no comments about my being “Judgmental” because that is certainly not my intention here.

The comments that have prompted this response, not quoted verbatim, are:

1. There is no verse in the Bible that specifically says that smoking is a sin.
2. You have taken Scripture out of context
3. Your vlog made me feel so condemned

Allow me to rejoin.

For those of you who felt condemned please allow me to apologize for making you feel bad, I tried to be as graceful as I could while giving as honest an answer as I could to the question of smoking. However I can’t help wondering if in the Christian world today there is a lack of understanding between the words “Condemnation” and “Conviction.” Paul says in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Condemnation is something you cannot escape from. If you are condemned then you are truly doomed to the consequences of your mistakes.

As a Christian however you are not condemned, Christ suffered for your sins so that you would not face “Condemnation”. If you read or hear anything that makes you feel “bad” about a supposed sin it’s more likely that the feeling you are experiencing is “Conviction”. This, to my understanding, is the Holy Spirit reminding you that the thing you are doing is wrong and that you need to repent of it. While there is no escape from “Condemnation”, “Conviction” is the vehicle that makes escape through repentance possible. As Christians we should embrace Conviction, because through conviction the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us to make us more like Christ, not to mention keeping us in fellowship with the LORD.

Once again, I would not expect someone outside of the Christian faith to understand let alone agree with anything I’ve just said.

The second issue is the one of Context. I would have to agree with those comments I’m afraid. At the time I made the video I made it on the fly and didn’t appropriately take the time to really consider the question from all angles. I believe I quoted Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…” and, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death…” from Proverbs 14:12. I definitely agree that these verses aren’t specifically about smoking or maybe even a particular sin but I still think the principle behind the verses can be applied – that sin leads to death.

Which brings me to the third concern – there is no verse in the Bible about smoking. I completely agree that taken at face value there are no verses specifically about smoking but I would argue that there does not need to be in order to decide from Scripture whether smoking is a sin.

The Bible teaches that there are consequences for our actions. In a nut shell, Galations 6:7 states, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

Of course that verse does not mention smoking at all, BUT is smoking of the Spirit or of the flesh? Be honest now. Those of us who have had to struggle with addiction know full well that it is of the flesh. We pander to addictions because they make us feel good (for a time) or they aide us in escapism in some way, while the Spirit would have us listen to Jesus when he said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)

On the topic of reaping what you sow, or the Law of Consequences, can anyone who has taken issue with my video state honestly and factually a good consequence or outcome from an addiction to tobacco?

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.” While again not specifically talking about cigarettes, the principle suggests that even something that might not be a sin might not be helpful or beneficial to ourselves or others. I would ask then, which do you think God would prefer you do, the one that is beneficial or the one that isn’t. Even James said, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” How many people out there resent the fact that they smoke because in their hearts they, “Know” it is wrong? I know from my own addictions the guilt I have had to fight with on a daily basis because I “knew” that what I was doing was not helpful to myself or my family, and while the Bible did not talk about my particular crime – for me it was a sin, as James pointed out.

Finally I would like to try and answer the question, “Is smoking a sin” from a completely different angle than the way I did in my video. This is how I would probably answer it now. But again, this answer is for Christians, not non-Christians. As far as non-Christians are concerned the chiefest issue they must face here and now is whether they accept Christ, smoking is the least of their worries.

But to the point I would like to look at smoking through the lens of the Ten Commandments. “But we aren’t under the law!” Someone may protest. To such a person I say, yes you are saved by Grace but Jesus still requires us to live righteously so that the world, “…may see our good deeds and praise our Father in Heaven.” Matt 5:16. In short, why on earth would anyone in the world want to follow our Christ if we ourselves are nothing like Christ? Jesus said, in verse 17 of the above reference, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law!”

So is smoking a sin according to the Ten Commandments? Let’s find out shall we, except I will not specifically target smoking in this brief analysis, but rather addiction – what I perceive to be the real issue here:

1. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Is your addiction your god? Do you worship it? Do you find yourself knowing that you shouldn’t do it but when the desire comes along, you “bow” down to it? If you had to choose between your addiction and your time with the Lord, which would you choose? The addiction? – I would suggest that if this is you then yes, your addiction is indeed a sin.
2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…” I acknowledge here that God is talking about a specific thing, the making of a physical representation of a god for one to worship, but suppose the principle here is relevant to addiction? Is your addiction your idol? If it is then yes, your addiction is indeed a sin.
3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” Traditionally this commandment has been taught to mean using God’s name as a swear word, and while I would give that interpretation some credence I personally feel that there is a bit more to it than verbal blasphemy. As Christians we are ambassadors in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We take on his name by calling ourselves Christians, or “Christ’s Ones” – I think misrepresenting God’s name by openly sinning as Christians is just as bad as using God’s name in vain. Think of all the heinous crimes that have been committed throughout History for the sake of Christendom. Such misuse of God’s name will not go without consequence. Are you misrepresenting Christ through open misconduct? Is your addiction abusing God’s name? If your conscience feels “convicted” right now because your addiction is making you a failed ambassador then yes, your addiction is indeed a sin.
4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates…” – In all honesty I’m not too sure how to apply this one to smoking, but some of us are workaholics and God wants you to have a break. If you cannot give up your addiction even for one day to honor the LORD then yes, your addiction is indeed a sin.
5. “Honor your father and your mother, that you may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” – Are your parents happy with your addiction? If not then yes, your addiction is indeed a sin.
6. “You shall not murder.” – If you, like me, believe that suicide is murder then are you not slowly killing yourself by certain addictions be they drugs, alcohol or smoking? Stop kidding yourself, if you are murdering your body, albeit slowly, through your addiction then yes, your addiction is indeed a sin.
7. “You shall not commit adultery.” – Smoking may not apply in this case but there are certain addictions that do. But if your addiction is robbing your spouse of what is rightfully theirs be it financial support, health or even intimacy then yes, your addiction is indeed a sin.
8. “You shall not steal” – Is your money yours or God’s? Think about it. If you answered God’s and you know that he would not have you waste money on the thing you are addicted to, then is that not stealing?
9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Ok, I can’t really apply this one to addiction easily, but like using God’s name in vain if we claim to be Christians but do something we know in our hearts is wrong while pretending that it is right… is that not lying?
10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbors.” – Probably not applicable except that coveting could be a motivation for some addictions, for example in my case my previous addictions came from depression over my being an underachiever, which came from me comparing myself to others. So in some cases I see how this can apply, and in my case it was indeed a sin.

Someone still might be tempted to accuse me of being too legalistic but I would argue that saying, “there are no verses in the Bible that say that it is a sin” is just a sneaky way of being legalistic! It insinuates someone whose approach to scripture is taking it at face value and not actually digesting what it says, or for a better analogy it’s like looking at the cake on your plate from every angle and declaring, “I can’t see any eggs, therefore there is no egg in this cake.” When in fact you would need to actually eat the cake for your body to glean the benefit of the egg!

“Grace!!!!” I hear someone else shout. “Amen!” I reply. Grace has indeed saved us, but Grace continues to be the very thing that makes it possible for us to do what is good. Grace is not our ticket to doing whatever we want, but our desire to do what is right over what is evil is evidence of Grace.

If you have come out the other side of this discourse feeling “convicted” then I urge you to find peace in the fact that God is gracious and he is not ignorant of your struggle, the Word reminds us that, “…if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and will cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

I too have struggled and still do struggle with the desire to do what I know I shouldn’t. And I do not submit this article as a hypocrite but rather as a humble messenger who knows full well that I will be judged more harshly if I do not practice what I have preached.

And last of all, if you are among those whose comments prompted this retort then please accept my sincerest gratitude for your comments and your thoughts. I have not directed enmity towards you as I am greatful that you took the time to challenge me.

God Bless

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